Wild coaches have already started contemplating what the lineup could look like next season, but training camp will help decide where everyone plays.
Not only is that when the team plans to experiment with combinations, but coach Dean Evason believes prospects such as Calen Addison, Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi will have an opportunity to audition for roster spots.
"Absolutely," Evason said Tuesday during a video interview. "That's what we want. We want that competitive nature. If you're coming to a National Hockey League camp, you better be prepared to make the team."
Unlike previous seasons when the Wild had enough players signed to fill every position, the team could be entering camp with some holes.
Even after re-signing Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, the team would have just 11 NHL forwards under contract. This includes the addition of Frederick Gaudreau. The blue line has enough numbers after the acquisitions of Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill but no clear seventh defenseman.
These roles could be taken by the depth players the Wild signed or even some standouts from the minors like forward Brandon Duhaime, who re-signed last week.
The team also has plenty of time to bring in more options, either via free agency or trade, but Wild brass could also be intrigued by the prospects in camp if they look ready.
Addison has already been ushered into NHL duty, making his debut last February and then swooping in during the playoffs after Carson Soucy was injured. Boldy turned pro in March and had six goals and 12 assists in 14 games with Iowa in the American Hockey League. As for Rossi, he is coming back from a lengthy absence after he was sidelined by complications from COVID-19.
"Our minds are open," Evason said. "Clearly, we have NHL contracts so those are the people that are going to have an opportunity obviously. But there's a lot of positions that are open. Yeah, for sure, young guys and/or older guys can come in and compete for a job. If they do that, we've got a training camp this year with lots of exhibition games so there's no reason why everybody can't step up and compete for a spot on our roster."
Evason's work behind the bench last season didn't go unnoticed.
The 56-year-old finished second in voting for the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year, an honor Carolina's Rod Brind'Amour won in June, and Evason described his acknowledgement as a reflection of the entire team.
"It was exciting for the organization," he said. "It meant a lot to me that our coaching staff gets the recognition that we did a good job as a coaching staff. But ultimately, management has to do a tremendous job to give you players to coach and then ultimately the players have to play the game.
"There's a lot of different elements that go into it, but I was very excited about our coaching staff, very excited for our coaching staff, and the way that we worked together clearly showed and translated into being a part of having some success last season."
The entire coaching staff, which includes assistants Bob Woods, Darby Hendrickson and Brett McLean, will return next season, Evason said.
Two new alternate captains need to be appointed to replace Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and Evason expects the Wild will reveal its picks during training camp.
Last season, Marcus Foligno, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jonas Brodin and Matt Dumba wore an 'A' on their jersey when Parise was out of the lineup — perhaps an indication of who the team will consider in its decision.
Goligoski will wear No. 47, Kulikov No. 29, Merrill No. 4 and Gaudreau No. 89.